Monday, September 26, 2011

A Gentle Beast, Is Elephant Garlic

I grow garlic, lots of garlic. One of the most fun things is to dig Elephant Garlic in the Spring. I get softball sized beauties down to tennis ball size. Bright white with greenish gold fronds. It's sorta' the beginning of the end for the much maligned Elephant Garlic. It plays in the winter winds and snow, puts out lots of scapes in the spring for a epicurean delicacy and finally, produces huge purple flower head that lasts forever.

Most old Southern home places had a small patch of garlic, most of it Elephant Garlic. Modern "connoisseurs" of garlic have convinced us that Elephant Garlic ain't real garlic. Southerners are not  garlic "connoisseurs", so it's no biggie.  Them who eat garlic accuse Elephant Garlic as not being strong enough. I defy one of the Nay Sayers to take a bite of a raw clove of Elephant Garlic clove, and keep a straight face. They 'll probably spit those words out in front of you. It's very hot when eaten raw.

So, what's the deal. Why the stigma? I can't answer that. It is not a true garlic, agreed. It is more closely related to the leek family. It isan Allium, and milder, for those who can't handle strong garlic. i find most Americans don't like anything strong, except coffee and liquor drinks, so Elephant Garlic should be a good fit to the American palate.

Better have beer breath than garlic breath, right? Americans are very conscious their breath might offend others, especially the blue light in the back window. If they had eaten a clove of garlic before they started driving, that night in jail might have been a different ending.

Back to Elephant Garlic. I think it's a matter of education. Elephant Garlic is the best baking garlic around for general culinary use. To prepare, take a bulb, or cloves, put in a small baking dish, or wrap in tin foil, drizzle with a little Olive oil, and bake until a tooth pick will pass easily through the clove. Oven temp about 325, and it takes up to 45 minutes for a large bulb. Microwave will do, I'd start low and work up until you figure how long it takes.

Now you have the raw material, garlic paste. The skins on the garlic cloves are like a little wrapper, snip the top and squeeze like tooth paste. Put a bunch in mashed 'taters, or mix with butter for garlic bread. Make up a bunch and keep it in the frig, and use it on veggies or baked potatoes.

Another use is to peel the cloves, thinly slice them, and saute until tender in a skillet, and add as a side for meats.  I have used the whole cloves, in a pot roast, as you would onions or potatoes. Put 'em in later in the cooking, as you want them to be tender but not cook away.

This is just basic "country cooking. I have a cook book we got from a fellow in Oregon where I got my first seed stock on fancy "chef" recipes for cooking with Elephant Garlic.
I'm sure you can find recipes on line.

It keeps for up to 9 months, no problem. It ain't pretty as it gets into it's later in the season storage. The wrappers just split and sorta' fall away, exposing the cloves. At that point, I just break of the clove and store them in an open paper bag in dim light and as constant temperature as you have in the house...cooler is better
Do not store in the 'fridge, not just Elephant, ANY garlic. It begins to think, "hey, time to start growing". Not good.  Proper storage is half the battle of keeping garlic all year long. A open paper bag in a low light corner, preferably out of the kitchen. It get too hot. You can keep a couple of bulbs in the kitchen. if you use them in a day or two. I know, picky, picky.

If you start to smell garlic, there is a decaying clove somewhere. That's sulfite you smell and it means you gotta' find it before it ruins all the bulb/bulbs. Fresh garlic has very little smell.

So, next time you're in the grocery store and see that miserable specimen of an Elephant Garlic, take pity on it...take it home and give it a try.

Oh, by the way, I've got about 100 lbs in the back room.

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